Market developments and competition

The markets in which we operate are dynamic, and developments within them lead to opportunities and threats for PostNL. Alongside Covid-19, which will have a multi-year impact on many facets of the economy, we have identified six market developments that are shaping the lives of our customers and suppliers and impact our strategy. These developments, and the impact they will have on our business, are detailed below.

At the same time, the actions and decisions of our competitors also influence market dynamics , which can influence our own behaviour. We outline the competition we face across our mail, parcels and international markets, and our responses to it, below.

Market developments

  • Growth in e-commerce

  • Consumer in control

  • Digitalisation

  • Automation and robotisation

  • Labour market

  • Sustainable logistics

Growth in e-commerce

The continued move from offline to online is leading to rapid growth in e-commerce, with people increasingly making their purchases online. This has accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the lockdown and closure of non-essential shops leading to a change in behaviour and more purchases being made online. While some of this growth is incidental, for many consumers this shift to online purchasing will continue going forward.

As well as solid domestic e-commerce growth, we see a strong increase in the cross-border e-commerce market. Analysts are forecasting growth in the global online purchasing market in the coming 3-5 years.

We are leveraging on these developments to cement our position as the leading e-commerce logistics player in, to and from the Benelux, by expanding our delivery options and increasing the number of value-added services we offer.

At the same time, we believe our comprehensive networks, proximity to the consumer and coverage across the Benelux enable markets, such as food and health, to grow online. We also see a growing number of peak moments, such as Easter, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and the annual payment of the holiday allowance. To deal with these developments and provide customers with the services and solutions they require and demand, we are investing in our networks and increasing flexibility .

Consumer in control

One of the impacts of digital change is that consumers increasingly expect to see the physical world replicated in the digital world. To satisfy consumer expectations, companies have to go beyond standard last-mile delivery solutions and provide new services. Consumers want to see services traditionally offered at retail locations, such as the sale of stamps or return solutions, available online, either through our app or website, and be able to track their parcels anytime, anywhere. They also want to be able to update their preferences on the go, using mobile channels to change the time or location of parcel deliveries.

It is becoming increasingly important that we manage the experience consumers have with our customers, which is why it's vital that we strengthen our connector position between consumers, customers and partners, enabling us to increase our quality, reliability, and engagement. This means developing services that connect the digital and the physical, placing consumers at the heart of what we offer so that digital transactions result in seamless physical deliveries.

Acceleration of digitalisation

Another key market trend is the acceleration of digitalisation. A range of digital alternatives for mail, such as electronic invoicing, social media or other digital marketing services, continue to contribute to declining mail market volumes. At the same time, ongoing digitalisation has introduced a number of opportunities for us to increase the value we add to customers and consumers, both within Parcels and Mail in the Netherlands. In our Parcels segment, the use of IT and data enables us to help customers better tailor their services to consumer wishes, such as by offering multiple delivery time-frame options. And in our Mail segment, we are adding customer value by offering a range of digital services, such as the stamp code and 'Mijn Post' through our app. The shift to a cookieless world makes it harder for companies to identify and target their prospects online. Through a combination of on- and offline marketing, and giving direct mail a prominent position, we can support companies to reach their goals. Digitalisation also contributes to more efficient supply chain management, which leads to cost savings at both Parcels and Mail in the Netherlands, and helps us create a more simplified product offering within our Mail in the Netherlands business

Rapid developments in technology impact the way businesses operate. Current and future trends that will impact our sector include the use of data , which will help logistics companies manage demand peaks, provide insights into supply and demand forecasts, and help with route optimisation. Digitalisation will also lead to smoother ordering and better payment and delivery processes, creating a more efficient supply chain. We are using technology and data to change the way we run the company and provide our services.

Automation and robotisation

Automation is impacting the logistics industry, with collaborative robotics set to increase accuracy and efficiency within the supply chain. Driven by rapid technological change and greater affordability, robotisation will boost logistics and productivity while supporting 24-hour processes. Robots will adopt complementary roles in the value chain, assisting workers with planning, fulfilment and last-mile deliveries.

The rise of e-commerce requires logistic service providers to operate faster and more efficiently to rapidly process all individual orders. Automation plays an essential role in this dynamic environment. With parts of logistic solutions still being operated manually, the potential for automatisation and digitalisation is high.

We use automation and robotisation in a number of areas, such as within our automatic fulfilment services and robotic process automation (RPA) in our back-office processes, and as we develop our small parcel sorting centres. As the technology becomes faster, more accurate and more affordable, automation will play an even greater role in our industry in the years to come.

Labour market

In our high volume, growing logistics business, effective staffing and planning is a key success factor. The temporary shutdown of businesses across the hospitality sector and parts of the retail sector because of the Covid-19 crisis led to a stronger labour market in 2020. This meant that it was easier for us to fill vacancies across the company. We don't know what medium- or long-term impact this will have on our staffing situation. In 2020 we hired more IT professionals and sourced, trained and placed people internally, which will help us accelerate digitalisation across the business and develop internal digital programmes, such as Digital Next.

During the year, we reached a final agreement with various unions for a new PostNL collective labour agreement (CLA) and a CLA for Saturday deliverers that sees wages increase by 5.5% over the course of two years. Our commitment remains on retaining people who are well trained, passionate, and who want to make a difference for our customers, by offering training, mentoring and development opportunities.

Sustainable logistics

Sustainability is playing a key role in the way society is changing and the way companies operate. Many are increasingly focusing on the longer-term impact of their businesses. PostNL is no different. We take our responsibilities seriously and are concentrating on how we can create a more sustainable company, while addressing the wishes of our stakeholders.

For example, we are increasingly using low- and zero-emission vehicles, and building very energy efficient sorting and delivery centres. One example is the solar panels fitted to the roofs of the 24 parcel sorting centres we own, which in 2020 produced around half of the centres' total annual energy consumption. We are also continuing to expand the use of renewable fuels, such as HVO100, on some of our delivery vans and large trucks across the Netherlands.

Sustainability is also a driver for business model innovation, such as through emission-free last-mile delivery. And we have set ourselves ambitious environmental goals for 2025 and 2030, which will result in fundamental changes to the company

We are using technology and data to change the way we run the company.

Competitive landscape

Increased competition in e-commerce

The Covid-19 crisis caused a sharp rise in e-commerce in the Benelux, with the transition from offline to online accelerating. This makes the market particularly interesting for both existing and new players, and in 2020 we saw a number of developments amongst competitors. Large players made investments in their Benelux networks, while new delivery players were particularly active in developing niche services and expanding their retail locations. We maintain our market-leading position in the Netherlands in the B2C segment by providing high-quality innovative services and solutions, with a strong sustainability agenda and a different approach to pricing. At the same time, we continue to focus on strengthening our position in the B2B segment, ensuring our services match or exceed those in the market.

Going forward, we will concentrate on digital innovations, enhancing the customer experience, our sustainability focus, and competitive pricing to stay ahead of challengers.

Developments in relation to mail

All Sandd’s 11,000 postal deliverers were offered jobs with PostNL, and around 4,000 of them accepted the offer and started working for us on 1 February. Additionally, over 300 other employees from Sandd, working in sorting, as drivers and in other roles, joined us at either Mail or other entities.

This will help us provide a reliable, accessible and affordable postal service, with greater job security for thousands of employees. Following consolidation, PostNL is the only postal operator with a nationwide coverage.

A range of commercially oriented postal operators have positions in niche segments, given the post-consolidation market conditions . Additionally, a large number of smaller postal operators offer local postal services, mainly executed in co-operation with, or as part of, sheltered workspaces. We work together with these sheltered workspaces where possible. For mail outside their own delivery area, these postal operators use postal services offered by PostNL. At the same time, a range of digital alternatives for mail, such as electronic invoicing, social media or other digital marketing services, continue to contribute to declining mail market volumes.


The enormous growth of international e-commerce and the growing impact of digitalisation provides a variety of opportunities for PostNL. We develop tailor-made cross border solutions and focus on flexibility in our business approach, which enable us to deliver high-quality, value-added services for customers while at the same time responding swiftly to rapidly changing markets, such as we saw at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Examples include helping Dutch e-tailers to expand their services abroad and enabling international customers with the smart distribution of shipments across Europe.

Alongside growth, the international arena is also becoming more competitive. Traditional players seek to strengthen their position, while different types of start-ups, for example those focussing on value-chain orchestration, end-to-end logistics or digital support, are entering the market. Large e-commerce and/or platform businesses are also expanding their geographical coverage and role in the logistics value chain, selecting the best logistic partnerships or, if needed, setting up their own logistic networks. Our flexible and customer-focused approach enables us to respond quickly to, and profit from, market dynamics.

Summary of regulatory environment

We offer customers a variety of logistic services across the Benelux, and mail and parcel solutions internationally. Within this environment, we have to comply with a range of legal and regulatory requirements in the countries in which we operate. These include tariff regulations, regulation related to dangerous and prohibited goods, customs regulations, labour regulation, data protection, environmental and privacy requirements, and competition law.

In the Netherlands, we are the designated operator to provide services under the universal service obligation (USO). This is the basic postal service that ensures that nationwide postal services remain accessible, affordable and reliable for all. Consolidation is key to achieving this. However, there is currently ongoing discussions as to whether the decision taken by the State secretary of Economic Affairs approving the consolidation is justified.

In 2020, the State Secretary of Economic Affairs and Climate published proposed amendments on the Postal Law. Feedback from the Dutch House of Representatives is the first step in the parliamentary legislative process towards a renewed Postal Law. A decision on this is not expected before mid-2022.

At the European level, the Council of the European Union has decided to abolish the VAT exemption on goods imported to the EU from third countries. In 2020, the European Member State representatives agreed to postpone the EU VAT e-commerce package from 1 January 2021 to 1 July 2021, primarily because of the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The European Commission (EC) is also in the process of evaluating the Postal Service Directive (PSD). The evaluation report is expected in the second quarter of 2021, and will report if the PSD is fit for purpose or needs to be revised.

Internationally, we are involved in developments through the Universal Postal Union (UPU), and in 2020 we also closely tracked the impact of Brexit, which saw the United Kingdom formally leave the EU on 31 January 2020.

More details about the developments in the regulatory environment can be found in the 'Our strategy' chapter.